Belfast’s Sinn Fein Lord Mayor is side-stepping the row over Sunday’s armed forces homecoming parade in the city centre, it emerged last night.
Veteran councillor Tom Hartley will walk away from potential embarrassment by instead attending the Indian festival of lights — called the Diwali — in north Belfast around the same time as the controversial march.
Instead the formal salute outside the City Hall will be taken by this year’s High Sheriff, DUP councillor Margaret McKenzie.
The first citizen’s alternative whereabouts emerged as Sinn Fein renewed its criticism of the tribute and repeated its demand for the parade to be cancelled.
Assembly member Jennifer McCann dubbed the parade an “insult” to the nationalist community of Belfast.
“It's not about not welcoming these people home, but they don't have to do it in a coat-trailing exercise,” she said.
However, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the event was for everyone. “On that day we will not only show our appreciation and support for the bravery of our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we will also remember those who did not return home alive from theatres of conflict,” he said.
“This is an event to show them that we care deeply about the sacrifices that they have made.”
And the North Belfast MP said he believed the parade should be broadcast live by both BBC and UTV.
“People from all around Northern Ireland will want to watch as we pay tribute to our soldiers returning home from such difficult and hazardous missions. Therefore I am calling upon the BBC and UTV to broadcast this event live on Sunday morning,” he added.